Transcription Tuesday 2021: Addressing Health

Professor David Green of King's College London explains how you can help transcribe the pensions records of 19th and 20th century postal workers

Sorting in the General Post Office 1849 Transcription Tuesday

About Addressing Health:

In 1860 James Angus retired from his work as a sorter in the Post Office because of ill health. He was aged 50 years and had served for over half his life working in the Post Office in London. His pension certificate states that the reason for retirement was because he had asthma and bad legs. James was clearly suffering from ill health for some time because his record also shows that in the two years prior to retirement he had taken over 150 days of sick leave – a relatively high number of days to have been off work. But what forced him to retire did not necessarily kill him – he lived for nearly thirty more years until his death was reported in 1890.

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James was one of many thousands of workers who worked for the Post Office and whose working life can be traced through the pension records held at The Postal Museum in London. These records exist for about 30,000 pensioners and are invaluable both for the individual stories they allow us to reconstruct and for the statistics they can provide on the incidence of sickness in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Our project, Addressing Health, aims to reconstruct the pattern of ill health in the Post Office using these pension records. We can find out, for example, what proportion of the workforce was forced to retire early because of ill health and how that changed over time. We can also match this against postal worker’s personal characteristics, such as age and gender, as well as place of work – comparing, for example, workers in large cities with those in smaller towns and rural areas. We can even see which occupational groups in the Post Office were most susceptible to specific conditions that prevented them from continuing, including mental health.

About the project and how to get involved:

Each pension record consists of at least three pages of information, so for the period our project covers there are more than 100,000 pages to consult and extract information from. If we were to try and transcribe this amount of data on our own, it would be impossible to do during the lifetime of the project. This is why we have teamed up with Transcription Tuesday 2021 to help us transcribe some of these records. By getting involved you can help us to map ill health and find out which workers retired early and for what reasons. You can even help us to identify how many sick days they had off prior to retirement.

To get involved and start transcribing, please go to our Zooniverse project page and select ‘Classify’ from the bar at the top of the page. You will then be shown an image of the record. You need to follow the instructions to transcribe the details it contains into the column on the right. Most of the record is typewritten so it is fairly easy to transcribe.

How to transcribe Addressing Health record Transcription Tuesday

Each record you transcribe will help us find out the answers to why people like James Angus came to be ill. How common was asthma and bad legs as a cause of early retirement? Was it the place in which they worked that was the problem, their occupation or just bad luck? By getting involved you will not only be helping to answer these questions but you will also be improving our understanding of the history and geography of ill health in 19th and early 20th century Britain.

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If you have any problems on the day, please email addressinghealth@gmail.com.